Thursday, January 30, 2014

Educational Attainment in the US, 1940--2013

The last half of the previous century was an astounding time for increasing educational attainment in the United States.  In 1940, for instance, the majority of adults had an 8th grade education or less; 13% of the adult population never made it to fifth grade.  And in 1940, if you had a college degree, you were special indeed: Only 5% of all adults were so privileged. The first interesting point is the effect of compulsory education through high school.

Many people believe the rise in family incomes and quality of life is related to educational attainment, although which is the cause, and which is the effect is subject to interesting debate.  It's pretty clear, however, that the end of World War II was the turning point.

This visualization started out very complex, but I decided to make it simpler in the end: Choose an age category and, if you like, a smaller subset of years.  Compare men to women in educational attainment, and see how that changes over time.

I'm drawn to the 55+ age group: The baby boomers and older.  Notice how college degrees exploded over time for both men and women, but how men in this group are still more likely to have a college degree or more.  Now look at the other age groups: In the younger categories, women have surged ahead, or, depending on your perspective, men have fallen behind.: That's the real story here.  And with enrollment rates of women continuing to be much higher than for men, it's likely to stay that way for a long time.